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Elections 2022Plan being drafted behind Netanyahu's back; Barkat opposed

Top Likud politicians plotting to shunt Netanyahu aside if he doesn’t win majority

Plan would try to placate former prime minster by letting him maintain almost full control of party but keep him out of government, enabling a coalition with Gantz’s National Unity

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Likud party and opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu attends Kikar HaShabbat conference at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel, September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud party and opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu attends Kikar HaShabbat conference at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel, September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Senior Likud politicians are plotting to try and shunt party leader Benjamin Netanyahu aside if his bloc fails to win a majority in the upcoming elections, believing the party could then join a coalition without him and avoid a sixth round of elections in less than four years.

Top party members told the Times of Israel’s Hebrew site, Zman Yisrael, that Netanyahu would be offered almost complete control of the party but would not be part of the government, which would allow Likud to form a center-right coalition government with parties that are currently refusing to sit with the former prime minister.

Despite Netanyahu’s vigorous election campaign, which has included meeting activists across the country, holding events and posting viral videos, most recent polls still predict a political stalemate in the November 1 vote, prompting prominent Likud politicians to prepare for a scenario in which Netanyahu’s bloc fails to reach the 61 seat majority it needs to form a government.

According to the emerging plan, which is being drafted behind Netanyahu’s back, he would remain head of the Likud party and be a senior member of the next Knesset, but would not be part of an envisaged unity government that would be formed with Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar’s National Unity party, ultra-Orthodox parties, and other potential partners.

In this scenario, Netanyahu would pick a Likud member to serve as prime minister in an agreed-upon rotation with Gantz.

Such a government would include 10-12 ministers appointed by Likud, who would later resign as part of the Norwegian Law and be replaced by other members on the Likud slate, which would increase the party’s influence in the Knesset and the government.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony for the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. (Knesset spokesperson)

“This is the best solution,” a senior Likud Knesset member who supports the initiative told Zman Israel on condition of anonymity.

“Nobody wants a sixth election. Netanyahu doesn’t want to be seen as the reason for another round of elections. And Yair Lapid would remain premier until then. On the other hand, [Netanyahu] doesn’t want to go home. We will reach an understanding that allows Netanyahu to serve as head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee,” the official said.

“Netanyahu will also remain leader of the Likud party and will get to choose the ministers as if he’d won the elections. He will be able to continue with his ongoing trial. It’s none of our business.”

Netanyahu would be expected to resist such a move, having rejected similar plans in the past. Two weeks ago he vowed to continue to lead his right-religious bloc should he fail to form a government. “I’m staying to lead it until we return a right-wing government to the State of Israel and as long as the Israeli citizens believe in it,” he told a conference.

The Likud source also conceded that there could be difficulty getting other Likud members to agree to a scenario that could see one of their rivals appointed prime minister.

“The only friction point will be about the identity of the alternate prime minister. Yariv Levin could be an acceptable candidate because he won the party’s primaries, but I’m not sure senior politicians like Nir Barkat or Israel Katz will let that happen, even if we’re only talking about a temporary role,” the official added.

The Likud MK said that those involved in the plan hope it would placate Netanyahu and Gantz, who has vowed not to sit again with Netanyahu after being denied his turn as prime minister in a 2020-2021 coalition between the parties.

“Netanyahu would monitor the ministers’ work from outside the government,” the MK concluded, “just like (Shas’s leader) Aryeh Deri did when he was not allowed to serve as a minister.”

“The question is whether Gantz and his friends will agree to follow suit and won’t fear being tricked by Netanyahu again. I think they might. What might convince them is that Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir won’t necessarily be part of this government,” the official said referring to the far-right Religious Zionism party.

The initiative has already been opposed by some in Likud. Barkat’s associates have demanded holding primaries for the Likud leadership in the event that Netanyahu doesn’t manage to reach 61 seats.

An unnamed political associate of Barkat told Zman Yisrael earlier this week that “The Likud leadership is not interested in sixth elections. It won’t happen. If Netanyahu doesn’t reach a majority, we will demand new primaries. This isn’t a monarchy in which he passes on the baton to his heir. In such primaries, Barkat will beat everyone by a huge margin.”

Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks during the funeral of Yehuda Dimentman, in Homesh, in the West Bank, on December 17, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Asked what would happen if Netanyahu competes in such primaries and wins, the MK said “Netanyahu will not compete in another round of Likud primaries if he fails [to form a government].”

Another senior Likud figure told Zman Yisrael on Thursday that Levin (Likud), Ze’ev Elkin (National Unity), and Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism) have recently met to discuss the initiative and the different potential scenarios.

All three lawmakers denied holding such a meeting. Pindrus told Zman Yisrael: “If Netanyahu doesn’t get 61 seats, we’ll be going to sixth elections. Period.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

The Hebrew version of this article first appeared on The Times of Israel’s sister site, Zman Yisrael, here.

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